By DEWEY F. BARTLETT, JR.
Mayor of Tulsa
It was one year ago this December that I was honored to step into City Hall as your next Mayor. What I found was a city in financial and operational crisis from many months of falling revenues, which caused diminishing city services. With unemployment having increased to over 7 percent, in 2009 the city had turned off highway lights, grounded both police helicopters, suspended any new police or fire academies, reduced or eliminated much of our mowing and graffiti operations, and doubled the employee furlough days.
In my first months that followed we had to make some difficult but necessary choices in order to balance our budget by the end of June. Since then, we have turned the lights back on, have both helicopters flying again, have plans to resume both a police and fire academy, cut the furlough days in half, and got mowing and graffiti removal resumed. So the question would seem: since it’s the same economy today as a year ago and with unemployment essentially the same today as a year ago, how did we do it?
We adopted a new conservative and aggressive fiscal policy with three points. First, we were no longer going to rely upon old forecasting models, which had never seen these types of economic times. We were going to project revenues to be much less than in the past.
Second, we were going to hold down and slow down spending by increasing the number of positions, which would remain vacant and other cost cutting measures.
Third, we sent a message to the Oklahoma Tax Commission to ether do a better job at collecting delinquent sales tax or we would do the collecting ourselves. From that message, last month over a million dollars of delinquent sales taxes was collected and remitted to the city for the first time in years.
But what we lacked at the beginning of the year was a plan to guide the city through not only these times but the months and years ahead. With the assistance of the efficiency experts from we now have this plan and will begin its implementation in 2011.
The year also saw many other important achievements: we got the legislature and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to approve the completion of the Gilcrease Expressway, we created the Office of Sustainability, adopted PlaniTulsa, sold old city hall, revived interest to develop the Arkansas River, and we forged new cooperative relationships with our county and surrounding city governments and Tulsa Public Schools.
With the tools in place to put city services back on a more stable path, we will focus a great deal of effort in 2011 working with Governor Elect Fallin to expand the economy and jobs in Tulsa. In Tulsa, that can mean manufacturing and aerospace. We will also create a city-planning department worthy of the 45th largest city in America.
For over two years, the city has been without a planning director and planning functions need to be consolidated and streamlined to implement PlaniTulsa.
We will launch the cities first sustainability plan for public property and we will expand the opportunities for citizens to have their say in the priorities of city government. This will fulfill what I believe are the two most important jobs of any elected official: ask the citizens their opinions and then listen to what they tell you.
Yes it has been a very challenging year yet one with some very good achievements and exciting plans for 2011. As always, I am here to serve you to create the best Tulsa we can have.